RODERICK R. WILLIAMS PETITIONER
HONORABLE STEVEN PORCH, CIRCUIT JUDGE RESPONDENT
PETITION FOR WRIT OF MANDAMUS [DESHA COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT,
ARKANSAS CITY DISTRICT, NO. 21ACR-07-50]
R. BAKER, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE.
Roderick R. Williams filed a pro se petition for writ of
mandamus seeking to compel the Honorable Steven Porch,
circuit judge, to rule on a pro se petition for
postconviction relief pursuant to Rule 37.1 of the Arkansas
Rules of Criminal Procedure (2011); a motion for a copy of
the trial transcript; a motion for appointment of counsel;
and a petition to proceed in forma pauperis, which were filed
in the Desha County Circuit Court on December 29, 2011.
Williams also requests that this court compel Judge Porch to
declare Williams's sentences and convictions void, grant
an evidentiary hearing, appoint counsel, and order a new
trial. Judge Porch responded that he had been appointed in
January of this year and he "can hardly be said to have
clearly failed to perform his duty only some six months later
given his inheritance of the caseload of the circuit division
to which he was appointed." Because Williams's
petition and related motions have been pending for an
unreasonable length of time, we grant Williams's request
for rulings on the petition and motions but deny
Williams's request that Judge Porch vacate the
convictions and sentences, conduct an evidentiary hearing,
and order a new trial.
was convicted by a jury of capital murder, first-degree
domestic battering, endangering the welfare of a minor, and
possession of a firearm by a felon, and he was sentenced to a
term of life imprisonment without parole plus a term of
seventy-two years. We affirmed. Williams v. State,
2011 Ark. 432, at 1, 385 S.W.3d 157, 159. The mandate was
issued by this court on November 1, 2011, and Williams filed
his petition for Rule 37.1 relief within the sixty-day time
limit. See Ark. R. Crim. P. 37.2(c)(ii) (2011).
purpose of a writ of mandamus is to enforce an established
right or to enforce the performance of a duty. State v.
Vittitow, 358 Ark. 98, 103, 186 S.W.3d 237, 240 (2004).
A writ of mandamus is issued by this court to compel an
official or judge to take some action. Id. A writ of
mandamus will not lie to control or review matters of
discretion and is used to enforce an established right.
Id. Issuance of the writ of mandamus is appropriate
only when the duty to be compelled is ministerial and not
discretionary. Parker v. Crow, 2010 Ark. 371, at 6,
368 S.W.3d 902, 907. Therefore, mandamus will compel
a judge to act when he or she should act, but it will not be
used to tell a judge how to decide a judicial question.
Branch v. Winfield, 80 Ark. 61, 95 S.W. 1007 (1906).
resolution of the issues raised in Williams's Rule 37.1
petition, together with his request for appointment of
counsel and his asserted right to an evidentiary hearing, are
matters that are entirely within the discretion of the trial
court and outside the purview of mandamus proceedings. It is
undisputed that the trial court has discretion pursuant to
Rule 37.3(a) to decide whether the files or records are
sufficient to sustain the court's findings without a
hearing. Sanders v. State, 352 Ark. 16, 25, 98
S.W.3d 35, 41 (2003). We have also made clear that the
appointment of counsel in postconviction proceedings is
discretionary and not mandated. Mancia v. State,
2015 Ark. 115, at 27, 459 S.W.3d 259, 276.
a court does have a ministerial duty to timely act on
pleadings filed, regardless of the merit of those pleadings.
See Thompson v. Erwin, 310 Ark. 533, 534-35, 838
S.W.2d 353, 354 (1992) (explaining that the imperative of
Canon 3(A)(5) of the Code of Judicial Conduct to promptly
dispose of cases provides recourse in mandamus proceedings).
In his response to Williams's mandamus petition, Judge
Porch relies on our holding in Eason v. Erwin, 300
Ark. 384, 387, 781 S.W.2d 1, 2 (1989) (per curiam), for the
proposition that Williams has made no clear showing that
Judge Porch failed to perform his duty. As stated above,
Judge Porch contends in his response that he inherited a
caseload from the previous circuit division and has not had
sufficient time to dispose of Williams's petition and
Eason, the trial judge explained to this court that
cases were set for hearings based on their ages, assured this
court that the petitioners' case would be set for trial
as soon as it could be, and provided this court with dates on
which the pending matter would be heard and concluded.
Eason, 300 Ark. at 386, 781 S.W.2d at 2. Here, Judge
Porch has not provided any such assurances, has failed to
indicate when a ruling would be forthcoming, and did not
clarify the status of Williams's petition within the
context of his current caseload.
held that a judge controls his or her docket and the
disposition of motions filed. Thompson, 310 Ark. at
534-35, 838 S.W.2d at 354. We have also made clear that any
other practice would destroy the independence of the bench,
which is one of the trademarks of the American judicial
system. Id. On the other hand, we have explained
that the court's control over its docket does not mean a
motion or case should be delayed beyond a time reasonably
necessary to dispose of it. Id. We also noted that
the fact that we had declined to issue the writ in
Thompson because the petitioner did not have
standing should not be construed as sanctioning unreasonable
delays. Id. at 536-37, 838 S.W.2d at 355.
Williams's petition and related pleadings have been
pending beyond a time reasonably necessary to dispose of
them, Williams's request for an order disposing of these
matters is granted. However, Williams's request that
Judge Porch vacate his conviction and sentence, appoint an
attorney, conduct an evidentiary hearing, and grant a new
trial is denied. Accordingly, Judge Porch is directed to
issue an order disposing of the Rule 37.1 petition and the
related motions within 120 days of the date of this order.
granted in part and denied ...